Summer of 85
Starring Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
Instead of writing about this week’s big sequel, which my Houston film critic colleagues are calling the year’s worst film, I thought I would spotlight this week’s other new release. “Summer of ’85” is the latest film from François Ozon, whose 2003 provocative thriller “Swimming Pool,” starring Charlotte Rampling, made a splash in the United States. The teenage coming-of-age story with a dark twist would have made its debut at Cannes last spring, but the pandemic forced the Cannes jury to only list what would have shown at the prestigious French Film Festival. “Summer of ’85” doesn’t have the nuance or acting force of “Call Me By Your Name,” nor is it going to appeal to the diluted “Love, Simon” crowd.You don’t have to read far to find critics calling Ozon’s latest film his weakest work yet, but viewers still have much to enjoy.
Sixteen-year-old Alex (Félix Lefebvre) is out of school for the summer and looking to take his friend’s small sail boat out on the water for some sun bathing. His choice to go alone and nap until a storm capsizes the craft is one that will forever change his life. He’s rescued and towed ashore by 18-year-old David (Benjamin Voisin), who insists he follow him home for a bath, tea and dry clothes. David’s mother, Madame Gorman (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), is all too happy to welcome the adorable new stranger to their home and literally disrobes the teenager, putting him in a bath. Sparks fly between Alex, who has never been in love, and David, who flirts with anyone and everyone. The two become inseparable, and the widowed Ms. Gorman tells Alex how wonderful it is to have her son back to his old self. Yet, as quickly as the friendship begins, it, too, falls apart.
“Summer of ’85” is about first love, heartbreak and nothing we haven’t seen before.
Ozon is in a hurry to get the lovers together. We barely get to know anything about Alexis, who prefers to be called Alex. In mere seconds after a dark prelude to the credits, every inch of the frame is draped in retro coming-of- age colors. The perfectly quaint seaside town seems to exist exclusively for romance stories and summer adventures (it’s Le Tréport, Seine-Maritime in France, if you are curious). The wardrobe, music and hairstyles represent the ‘80s look to even greater detail than Luca Guadagnino’s journey back in time. Like with most of Ozon’s films, there’s always an uncomfortable feeling lurking behind the beautiful façade. The first 30 minutes of story and character development prove the the high point of a quick decline. The choice to reveal a character’s death in the opening sequence doesn’t aid the film’s needs for suspense. Ozon’s choice to intertwine the time frames of past (summer and colorful) with present (fall and bleak) also does the narrative little favors when it comes to the climax.
Newcomer Lefebvre is a European Jonathan Taylor Thomas type (back in his early career), perfectly naive and likeable, which is why the Gormans refer to him as “little bunny.” Meanwhile, Voisin would be the teenage version of Jude Law’s Dickie Greenleaf in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” juggling love and attraction until he’s bored. Tedeschi’s performance as the widowed mother is a bit over the top. If this were an American film, she might be portrayed by Jennifer Coolidge. “Summer of ’85” is about first love, heartbreak and nothing we haven’t seen before. It unfortunately ends in a cliche that might not translate well to American audiences.
“Summer of ’85” is no “Call Me By Your Name,” nor does it find new ground in the teenage coming-of-age world.